Which Type of Capoeira Beginner Are (Were) You?

31 12 2007

Pointed toes? Ah-hah! One dancer-capoerista, at 12 o'clock!This is a great, fun article I found on Capoeira Connection.  It’s spot on, from “the underconfident one” right down to “the gymnast/dancer”, and I bet you’ll recognize yourself or someone you know in at least one (if not all) of them!  Check it out–click here!


P.S.  Yesterday I received my 1000th page hit, exactly one month from the start of Mandingueira (my first post was November 30th)!  Thank you, to all of you guys!  Happy New Year!

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Women, Men, and Brazilian Bikinis

30 12 2007

Brazilian beach 

So, I have a friend who is very cool, very nice, and generally awesome.  But then he said this (below) the other day, which made me think, and then made me think he was wrong.  So despite his coolness/niceness/general awesomeness, I’m going to talk about that today.

(paraphrased due to inexact memory)

If you go to Brazil, have you seen the bikinis they have there?  Tiny—tiny little things, barely covering anything.  If I see a woman wearing one of those, then I’ve basically seen all of her.  But if she’s changing and I accidentally see her, she freaks out and screams.  Well, so what?  I’ve already seen her in her bra and underwear, because I’ve seen her in her swimsuit–they’re exactly the same.

Women are…they wear clothes that show things, to be noticed.  But if a man shows that he notices, and says something, then she gets mad.  It’s hypocritical.

Where do I start?  On the surface, I don’t think that’s all completely wrong, and might be fair enough in many cases.  At the same time, something about it still doesn’t feel right to me.  Both statements involve assumptions that could do real harm if taken too far or too generally.

Assumption #1: If two articles of clothing look the same, they are the same for all intents and purposes, and are interchangeable, as are the situations in which they are used; thus, the woman shouldn’t care.

This assumption is flawed because it makes clothing the issue, when what must be differentiated is situations and contexts.  A woman who is fine wearing bikinis on the beach wouldn’t be fine wearing just underwear in class because it’s a completely different environment.  She wouldn’t be fine wearing a bikini in class, either.  The clothes are the same, but it is the situations that are different and so the significance of the clothes changes accordingly.  (To take an extreme example, imagine a Playboy model walking around naked in a mall.  It’s okay for her to be naked in the magazine, but not in the mall, right?  But since people have already seen her naked in the magazine, why not?  Because the situations/contexts are different.)

You could say that that’s bs and doesn’t make sense, that if you wore a bikini, the fact you’re inside a building doesn’t mean people will see an iota more of you than if you were on the beach, so it really doesn’t matter.  And you would be right.  However, society for hundreds and thousands of years has conditioned most of us to believe otherwise, to believe it does matter.  Society, in general, says to us: “It’s okay to be nearly naked on a beach in Brazil.  It’s not okay to be nearly naked inside your capoeira academy.”  This is dictated in the same way society once dictated: “Women can wear skirts, but a woman wearing pants is indecent” and “Women can wear long dresses, but anything above ankle-length is for harlots.” 

Today, obviously, women do wear pants and skirts shorter than ankle-length.  However, that was because they decided to take ownership of the situation and make it acceptable.  No men said to them, “Pants cover your legs as much as skirts cover your legs, therefore you will now feel comfortable wearing pants, and we will all be okay with that.”  So even if a guy were genuinely being forward-thinking and advocating for the further liberation of women/their bodies, it might not exactly be for him to say, since it’s not his body. 

And as much as I’m for the breaking of socially constructed mentalities like the “where is a bikini acceptable?” one, it’s not fair to ask/tell women to blatantly flout the dictatorship, since everyone else is still ruled by it and will react accordingly, to the detriment of the woman.  (For example, if a woman were to train in a bikini, she might be fine with it and my friend might be fine with it and not care, but all the other men and women would care and think certain things about that woman, since they are still ruled by the general mentality that bikinis are fine on the beach but not in class.) 

It’s almost a chicken-and-the-egg situation: people’s behaviour won’t change unless the mentality of society changes, but its mentality won’t change if people’s behaviour never changes.

Assumption #2: All women wear revealing clothes always with the intention of showing or flaunting it and getting attention.

First of all: not true.  It’s so probable that a woman just thinks a certain top looks nice or flattering on her overall, and that’s why she wears it; if it happens to be slightly revealing (within reason), that does not necessarily mean she wants guys staring at or making comments to her, etc.  It’s also possible that the top’s neckline moved or shifted without the woman noticing, although perhaps ignorance is a weak defense.  Still, the point is that you can’t assume

Now, what if a woman does wear revealing clothes deliberately to get attention?  What “rights” does that give men with respect to their behaviour or words towards this woman, if any

I think this again has to do with perceptions and social mentality.  In most places, it’s generally expected that men would “notice” this woman tactfully and unspokenly; thus if someone were to break this unspoken code and actually mention to the woman just how revealing her top is, she might feel affronted.  The point quoted at the beginning of this post attacks just this: the woman shouldn’t feel affronted, and would be hypocritical to feel so, because she got the attention she was seeking.  I think I agree with this, although obviously, whatever the “attention” entails must not exclude respect for the woman, and her dignity.  This is where it gets tricky though, because where do you draw the line?

I suppose part of it also rests on each individual woman and man involved in any interactions like that.  And that’s why it’s even more important to not make such generalizations or assumptions.  Because if you get one person wrong, what’s to say you won’t stop at the rest?

Update: I found a line that puts Assumption #2 in another, perhaps clearer, way.  From Just a girl in short shorts talking about whatever: “If a woman is not totally covered, or otherwise looks sorta sexy, she is asking for it, since men cannot be expected to control themselves.”  (That’s like saying doing a floreio in the middle of  a game is asking to be kicked or smashed to the ground, since obviously the other player can’t control themselves.  It’s insulting and unjust to both parties.)

Update 2: A friend of mine added that it doesn’t matter how revealing someone’s clothes are; she should be able to wear anything and not be judged or derogated for it, because what you wear has (should have) nothing to do with other people.  It’s a personal choice, it doesn’t change their personality or make them more or less anything they aready are or aren’t, and really it’s none of anyone else’s business.  If only people would/could realize that!

Picture source:
http://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/tomandbecky/2005_brazil/1123546560.html

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Can Capoeira Change the World?

29 12 2007

I stumbled across a beautiful line yesterday: 

[Capoeira] combines feminine aestheticism with masculine pugilism and escapes the rigid confines of both.

Perfect; absolutely perfect.  That line was courtesy of Singaporean writer and capoeirista Ng Yi-Sheng, from his blog the paradise of fruits and flowers.  Even if you aren’t into writing or literature, some of the things he writes about capoeira definitely make for an interesting read (case in point: click here).

Returning to the line above, I liked it so much that I’m going to have you read it again:  “It (capoeira) combines feminine aestheticism with masculine pugilism and escapes the rigid confines of both.”  I forgot about that while writing my “The Feminine in Capoeira” posts, where I focused on binaries and divisions (somewhat ironically in order to deem them things we should all ignore).  Now I want to look beyond that, to the role capoeira itself is supposedly playing in simultaneously breaking such structures down. 


[Note: When I talk about capoeira from now on, for the most part I mean its role and movement in society, not referring to the actual games and features that make up capoeira itself.]


Boundaries are fluid and perforated for capoeira, if not imaginary.    If each martial art were a literary persona of some sort, capoeira would be the Trickster figure from First Nations stories–a source of constant destabilization and renewal, impossible to pin down.  Even if one insists on assigning a “feminine” and a “masculine” aspect to capoeira, then within the context of the sport, none of it might even matter because capoeira is bigger than both.  It was one of the original greats of capoeira, after all, who said, “Capoeira is for men, women and children.” (-Mestre Pastinha) 

Likewise, and perhaps most obviously, capoeira crosses socioeconomic classes, nationalities, and cultures and politics of every stripe.  The documentary Mandinga em Manhattan mentions people playing capoeira along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, which, if true, would be astounding and speak volumes for capoeira and how it can unify diversity. 


[Warning: Relevant anecdote containing possibly politically incorrect remark ahead.]


The other day, I was telling a non-capoeirista friend about the time I visited Nice to train capoeira there.  She also went to France with me, and said she was surprised there were capoeira groups in France because capoeira seemed like such an intense sport, requiring so much dedication, commitment, and general keenness, none of which the French seem to have if you’ve ever had to deal with them on a daily and professional basis for an extended period of time.  (Okay, that was actually a very politically incorrect remark, and obviously not completely true; now moving on with the story…)  As a joke, I lowered my voice, leaned in, and dramatically declared, “That’s because capoeira touches all.”

Like I said, it was a joke (I’m not that brainwashed!), but then again, I read somewhere once that most if not all humour works precisely because it is always based on some grain of truth!  I don’t doubt that capoeira can touch people’s lives regardless (NOT “irregardless”, which is an inherently wrong and logically ridiculous word) of where they come from or what their background is.  It makes sense, if you think about it: What are the three fundamental components of capoeira?  Fight, dance, and music–each of which speaks to some unspoken part deep in every human being, and they are united and presented as art, which is a fourth that does the same thing.

Volta ao mundo

What I have questions about is the idea that capoeira not only has the potential to touch given people in the world, it can also change the world, through its mere existence and movement.  Nestor Capoeira writes:

Capoeira can be a tool in the First World, a tool against the forces that tend to turn people into robots that do not think, do not wish, do not have any fantasies, ideals, imagination, or creativity; a tool against a civilization that increasingly says one simply has to work and then go home and sit in front of a TV with a can of beer in hand, like a pig being fattened for the slaughter.  (Source here)

I can see capoeira doing such a thing for the people who practice it, through training, the roda, the philosophy, connecting with other capoeiristas from different cultures, etc., but unless everyone joins capoeira, how will society as a whole be affected by it?  Unless the whole point is that capoeira will change the world one person at a time (which, often enough, seems to be how it’s done)?  Or maybe it’s the idea of paying it forward (or back); there are tons of examples out there, for example, of a capoeirista starting a grupo in North America or Europe that eventually leads to changing the lives of many kids in Brazil.  Then there’s o efeito mariposa (:P)–the butterfly effect.  The armada of one capoeirista in Brazil can cause a tornado of change in Australia? 

I’d love to say that capoeira is changing or will change the world, beyond the capoeiristas and people in Brazil who are helped by capoeiristas, but I only want to know if there is something more concrete than theoretical or fanciful capoeira discourse that we can look to, to believe in some mass movement of this martial art that will help to revamp society as a whole.  Or am I just expecting too much?

On the other hand, I just reread my own sentence–“change the world, beyond the capoeiristas and people in Brazil who are helped by capoeiristas.”  Hm, so capoeira touches some people’s lives, and these people go on to touch other people’s lives.  Wait a second, isn’t that precisely what change is, and how mass change begins? 

I think the complication here is that I’m slightly confusing two concepts–changing the world, which connotes doing something, somewhere, to change something for someone or a lot of someones; and changing society/”civilization” (whatever that is), which connotes changing attitudes and values across entire populations, or sections of them.  So I can see capoeira doing the former, but am not quite sure about the latter, unless the spirit and attitude we all develop from doing capoeira is just that infectious!

Whether or not capoeira and its ideals/philosophy/attitudes will work its way through society in the future, there is no question that capoeira does something.  So, I’ll leave you with a quote about change that I’ve always liked, and may apply to any grupo, academy, or dedicated bunch of capoeiristas out there:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’ (-Margaret Mead)

Picture source:
http://bp3.blogger.com/_aiM7QtdDFgk/RnnsqYOv1LI/AAAAAAAAAW4/VXaQp5BviTA/s400/legs.jpg

Update: Click here to read “Can Capoeira Change the World? Part 2”





The Case of the Missing Capoeira Class (And What to Do about It)

27 12 2007

It was a day like any other.  The paper was stacking up, the cases were piling in, and the thermometer was about to blow its top.  I’d just lit my last cigarette, when there was a knock on the door.

“Come in,” I said.

The door opened slowly.  She stepped in, heels sinking into the coffee-stained linoleum, white gloved-hands trembling, white scarf hiding half her porcelain face; a real damsel in distress. 

“Oh Mr. Malone, it’s terrible!  If only you could help me, I’d be forever grateful!”

“‘S what I’m here for.  P.I. Sam Malone, at your service.  What seems to be the problem, pretty lady?”

Well, she told me.  And it wasn’t a pretty picture.  A job relocation, a popped kneecap, a closed academy, the works.  I told her I’d see what I could do, but it wasn’t looking good.  Still, every P.I. worth his salt has a few leads barking down the old chain.  I opened a new file, titled…The Case of the Missing Capoeira Class.

Detective’s Log: The Case of the Missing Capoeira Class – Leads


Exhibit A: Gym Room

Motive: Keeps you strong, keeps you fit.  Benchpressing is no jogo, but it’ll help you out in your next one (whenever that may be).  Cycle the room, mix things up.  Arms, legs, back, chest, cardio–leave no muscle unworked (except for the muscles around that popped knee cap, if that’s your issue; in that case, work hard on everything else)!  Gym room MIA, went down the same sorry road as that elusive capoeira class?  Look up workout ideas for the home, such as The Capoeira Blog‘s Strength Training Exercises.


Unidentified capoeirista - a shadowy figureExhibit B: Self-Training

Motive: As revealed by Exhibit A, benchpressing is no jogo, and lat pulls are no bananeira.  Just because there’s no Instrutor present threatening to revoke your belt doesn’t mean you can’t do those 60 esquivas on your own!  Making a routine helps–write it out and stick to the list.  Go back to basics, if that’s all you’re confident of working on without a teacher; that may be a blessing in disguise, as you can never do enough of those!


Exhibit C: Videos and DVDs

Motive: I once knew a guy…picked up a couple of capoeira training DVDs, was never the same again.  Finally joined a grupo, and blew everyone away.” “Really, Mr. Malone?” “Yes, really.”  A last resort in my opinion, but a good P.I. must face the facts.  They could help, especially if you are desperate or don’t trust yourself to be self-disciplined enough for self-training.  There are also some potentially helpful videos on Youtube (e.g. macaco).  Just be careful that you don’t try something dangerous that you or even the video might be unsure about!  And just in case you need the reminder: videos and DVDs are never a substitute for the real thing.


Exhibit D: Another Academy

Motive: You get a class, you get a teacher, you get the atmosphere.  The only problem?  It’s not yours. 

“Oh, but Mr. Malone, I couldn’t!”
“You may not have a choice, madame.”
I knew it; it was a can of worms just waiting to pop wide open.  Still, what could I tell her?  A lead was a lead.

Obviously, this doesn’t apply if your academy has just closed temporarily (e.g. for holidays), or if you’re injured, or anything like that.  Personal judgement rules here, of course, as well as school philosophy, relationships with and between grupos/teachers, degree of desperation, accessibility (or lack of) to your own academy, etc.  I’m not recommending going either way as a general rule; there are too many variable factors subject to each individual’s case, and it’s just one option to be aware of!


Exhibit E: Other Capoeiristas

Motive: If you’re stuck without capoeira classes, chances are there are others in your exact position.  If your academy is closed, gather with friends or other capoeiristas from your school for impromptu rodas or informal training sessions.  If you’re stranded in a foreign city and groupless, you could make like the wandering nomads of old and form a group (the general noun, not in the sense of a capoeira grupo, although the first may lead to the second!) with other stranded, groupless capoeiristas, so that you can all help each other keep your skills up, whether through rodas or meeting regularly to train together.  (This actually worked out very well for a friend of mine.)



Well, I’d done my best–left no clue unturned, no print undusted, no suspect unshadowed.  My thinking cap was running on its very last legs, and the coffee at the bottom of the pot was harder than an anvil on a duck.  I wished the pretty lady luck, and she left with a small, optimistic smile on her Chanel No. 7 reddened lips.  All in all, I hadn’t done a bad day’s work.  Case closed.





Pakistan’s Bhutto Assassinated

27 12 2007

Benazir BhuttoOkay, I know that it has nothing to do with capoeira (although indirectly to do with women), but this is huge.  Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was killed today, after having returned from eight years of exile.  She had returned to help her country, whether that involved working with or ousting the current corrupt government of President Musharraf.  She survived one attack that killed 150 people, in October.  There’d been huge rallies of support for her since her return, and all the commotion you’d imagine for such an occasion.  Hope was everywhere.  And now she’s gone. 

Unfortunately, I’ve taken exactly one political science course in my life, but if you want to know more beyond that this means a new, major wave of intense instability in Pakistan, it’s all over technorati, and of course the mainstream media as well.  You will find many analyses there, and I wanted to add this post as a tribute to Bhutto and her memory.

Update: For a quick background and overview, check out this brief post at Antigone Magazine, which offers a short biography of Benazir Bhutto’s life, career, and death (click here).  For a more political science-type post from Article Discover Politics, click here.

(And for those who insist on getting their daily capoeira reading-fix, I will post another entry today soon.)





Ie viva meu Mestra, Part 4: Contra-Mestra Marisa Cordeiro

26 12 2007

I can’t believe I almost forgot about Contra-Mestra (or Mestranda) Marisa Cordeiro, considering she was the other woman interviewed in the documentary I saw, and so part of the inspiration for this post series. I know it’s been a while, but better late than never, right? Thanks again to Mike for reminding me about her!


Contra-Mestra Marisa CordeiroMarisa Cordeiro was born in Curvelo, Brazil, and began training with Capoeira Cordão de Ouro in 1985. She was a lucky pupil of renowned Mestre Suassuna, as well as of his students Mestres Cangaru Domingo, Flavino Tucano, and Urubu Malandro.

The talented Marisa soon joined Oba Oba, a Brazilian performance group that held shows around Latin America and the United States. Two years after performing in the U.S. for the first time, Marisa returned to Chicago and founded the city’s first capoeira school, Gingarte Capoeira, in 1991.

Eight years later, she received her Contra-Mestra’s corda from Cordão de Ouro. Today, Gingarte Capoeira has grown since its fledgling days at the University of Chicago, and Contra-Mestra Marisa Cordeiro is known as one of the highest ranking female capoeiristas in the United States.


Sources:

http://www.zoominfo.com/Search/PersonDetail.aspx?PersonID=158079898
http://www.gingartecapoeira.org/about/contra-mestre-marisa


P.S. I could only find one video of Marisa Cordeiro playing, but I had to agree with one of the commentators that she didn’t really seem to play like someone at her given rank. She also seemed to split off from her teachers’ school a lot sooner than any of the other mestras/contra-mestras I’ve featured, and I can’t help wondering if this might have been detrimental to her in the long run?

Click here to see other posts in Ie viva meu Mestra





8 Holiday Gift Ideas for the Capoeirista in Your Life

24 12 2007

Christmastime capoeiraHappy Holidays!  With the season now upon us, have you found something for everyone on your list?  Yes, you say?  Oh, except for one person, you say?  That one person for whom you have no idea what to get, except maybe something to do with that crazy Brazilian capo-whatsit they do because it’s all they ever talk about?  Well, look no further!  Even if they already have copious amounts of abadas, t-shirts, street wear, and DVDs, by the end of this post, you’ll have a handy list of ideas for what to get for the capoeirista in your life (or, as a treat, for the capoeirista in you)!


1. A Book about Capoeira

If a capoeirista isn’t thirsting for water after a hard day’s workout, they’re probably thirsting for more knowledge about capoeira. Believe me, learning about it beyond moves and techniques adds infinitely to your experience of practicing capoeira. A good place to start would be Nestor Capoeira’s The Little Capoeira Book, or Capoeira: Roots of the Dance-Fight-Game (Newsflash! –> A second edition of Little Capoeira Book comes out this Boxing Day!). For those already with some base in the knowledge, history, or philosophy of capoeira, consider A Street-Smart Song: Capoeira Philosophy and Inner Life, by the same author. Note that these books are about capoeira-its history, philosophy, relevance, social implications, role in society, growth, development, key figures, ideals-and not principally written in order to teach the reader how to do capoeira. Although there are books out there that focus on the latter, I would say books such as Nestor Capoeira’s are a better choice, as presumably the capoeirista is already learning moves from their academy classes, and the style of movements in a particular book may not match the style of the student’s grupo, so it might not be very practical for everyday training. Of course, an exception to this is when the technique book has been authored by your grupo, as recently became the case for anyone in Capoeira Brasil.  Still, a book like this would mostly be ideal for someone dedicated enough to use it in addition to the training they already get within class.


2. This Book about Capoeira

I highly recommend Capoeira: A Brazilian Art Form, by Bira Almeida (Mestre Acordeon), and don’t think the recipient already owning one of the books recommended above should bar you from getting them this one, which is why I listed it as a separate item. As someone put it to me, this book is a “friendlier read” than Nestor Capoeira’s work (though I have only read Roots and a bit of Street-Smart Song to date, so I’m basing my opinion off that), more unassuming and with less of a bias/agenda showing throughout the writing. There are some beautiful stories in here, as well as good writing and a generous helping of song lyrics and their (English) translations, which helps with the Portuguese!


3. Capoeira Music

Nothing helps with learning a song more than being able to listen to it over and over (and over and over and over) again in one’s own home or car. (And if the CD comes with a booklet of lyrics, even better!) If the person you are thinking of already owns all your grupo’s CDs, help to expand their horizons and get them a CD recorded by another mestre or grupo. Or if you’re in a regional group, you could get them a CD from an angola group, and vice versa. Alternatively, the person might enjoy some Brazilian dance (e.g. samba, xaxado, coco de roda) or general Brazilian music (e.g. Sergio Mendes, Caetano Veloso) instead!


4. Capoeira Artwork

On a list floating around the Internet titled “You know you’re capoeira-crazy when…”, one of the listed criteria was “…when all your hard drive space is used up because all of the capoeira pics and videos.”  Well, there’s a reason for that! Whether it’s printed onto our clothes, sketched inside our notebooks, inked into our skin, or floating across our computer monitors, we just seem to want to soak up capoeira wherever we go! With that, a nice painting or drawing of an image or scene to do with capoeira would be ideal for anyone who is into the sport. (Warning: You may want to hold off of any life-sized portraits of people unless you know the person is that devoted to a particular figure…)


5. Make It Personal

If you want to make someone really happy, give them something to do with their apelido. It can be as loud and clear as a stuffed animal for Gato, or as subtle as a charm-embellished notebook for Mariposa. Artwork would be a hit in this case, too. We all fail what my friend christened the “capoeira nerd test” at some level, and getting a thrill out of anything that highlights our personal capoeira identities is just one great way to do it!


6. Teach Them Something You Can Do

Offer to spend a day or several sessions solely helping someone learn or perfect one of their goals that you’ve achieved and would be able to help them with. A cool floreio movement might be ideal for this. Alternatively, you could help them with learning songs, or music. Offer to teach them how to play the pandeiro or atabaque, how to arm and play a toque on the berimbau, or teach them more advanced rhythms and variations on any of the instruments. This gift is useful, long-lasting, hopefully will be paid forward, and would definitely be greatly appreciated (I know I’ve been dying to learn how to play maculele on the atabaque since forever, and the first person to successfully guide me into a correct au amazonas will be my god[dess]).


7. Portuguese for Dummies

This one is pretty self-explanatory! Any Portuguese-learning book, even a good Portuguese-English/English-Portuguese dictionary, will eventually become useful for anyone who wants to seriously pursue capoeira into higher and higher levels-or anyone who just wants to know exactly what it is they’re belting out loud in front of 30 people every roda!


8. A Holiday Rasteira (alternatively, a Festive Vingativa or Yuletide Tesouro)

Because that’s the greatest gift of all-learning from experience!


Picture Source: http://www.cdol.co.uk/homepage_gfx/bbc_ident.jpg